Chapter Nine – Becoming the Wolf
The Underforge was a place that reeked of rite and ritual, of a sort of magic that was not within the hands of mere mortal men, but rather something so primal that nothing so far removed from nature could possibly hope to control it. Di'kana knew it, the moment Skjor led her through the secret door hidden within the sheer stone face below the Skyforge, that there was something special about this place that was beyond whatever words might have been used to describe it. Cold stone walls, likely hewed out an era before, flowed from a narrow passage into a wide room. The smell of candle wax and wisps of smoke flavored the air as the young Khajiit girl found herself entering into a place where power pulsed through with the beat of her heart.
Something in her reacted to this place. Something in her felt excited and alive.
Skjor had met her only moments ago, where she'd been waiting out in the yard. He'd taken her presence as a sign of eagerness, bidding she follow him with only a few words and a wave of his hand that delighted in her obedience to his whim. Even if it didn't show on his face, the fact that she was here, doing this, had him incredibly pleased.
Following behind him, she had to fight the temptation to bare him to the ground and rend him. Tension in her hands made her fingers feel thick and stiff as she fought the desire to curl them into a ready position for attack. It was an active battle within herself not to let her ears lay flat and express the utter hate that could not be mollified by any amount of justification. Not yet, she had to remind herself. Remind herself that her claws would do little against the plates of armor he wore, that patience would bring her victory... she simply had to wait for him to give her the means of his demise.
As the dark stone passage from the outside ended, the room opened wider into a place that vibrated with indescribable energy. Cold though the stone floor was, it also seemed to feed an odd sort of heat within Di'kana. It was something that seemed to draw up through her feet, lace up through her limbs and up her spine, making her stand taller as blue eyes glanced about the dimly lit space. The walls morphed into what looked like basins, but they had more importance than that. Alters, perchance, places where the ritual took place. There was a third, in the center, standing free of the wall and giving the place of greatest importance upon a pedestal, the stone carved into shapes around the rim that had lost their definition with time.
Behind this central alter, a hulking shape stood. A dark-furred beast that stood erect upon two legs, blazing yellow eyes watching Di'kana and Skjor as they entered, growling softly between heavy breaths that were only hardly restrained from snarling. Di'kana had seen a creature of the like before-- Farkas had looked like that after he had transformed. Even then, however, it took her several moments to recognize she was seeing a werewolf. The last she'd seen one, he hadn't exactly been holding still for her to stare upon. She'd seen a creature of dark fur and teeth and claws and blood, and this one? This one still still, restrained fury in a body that watched with unearthly fire in its eyes.
A sniff at the air revealed the identity of the wolf.
“Aela.” Di'kana gaped with wonder, stepping further in.
“I'm surprised you recognize her like this.” Skjor smiled at Aela with what appeared to be... pride. Yes, Di'kana knew that look, but it wasn't like the proud smile Farkas had given her the night she'd been accepted into the Companions. No, there was something else in it... something that seemed to believe in ownership. The smile Skjor gave Aela was possessive.
“This one smells her scent. It is the same.”
“I see...” Skjor nodded slightly, thoughtfully, before going on to explain what was happening here. “We do this in secret because Kodlak is too busy trying to throw away this great gift we've been granted. He thinks we've been cursed, but we've been blessed. How could something that gives this kind of prowess be a curse? So, we take matters into our own hands. To reach the heights of the Companions, you must join with us in the shared blood of the wolf... are you prepared to do so, kit?”
Are you prepared-- what a stupid question. After all his manipulations of those around her, he dare ask if she was prepared? The whole point of everything he'd done was to ensure that she wasn't prepared. That she was forced into this decision prematurely, before she had time to think about it and decide differently. Something in him was so desperate to have this go his way, and she was little more than a pawn in his design, and she knew it.
Instead of growl, she smiled. An opening of her lips showed Khajiit teeth-- so much sharper than the races of men. Their blunt molars were pitiful when compared to the sharp incisors and gripping fangs within her maw.
If Skjor knew her race better, he'd know that such a smile with teeth was not pleasure, but a threat.
“This one is ready.”
Skjor nodded, somewhat solemn now when he approached Aela. From his belt, a blade was drawn, reaching his other hand to take hold of one of Aela's massive paws-- or was it a hand? It reminded Di'kana of her own hands, fuzzy and clawed, but the way the digits naturally curved, the way the talons dominated the grip, it appeared more like an animal's paw that just happened to be capable of grasping. All the same, Aela let him touch her, let him bring the appendage over the stone alter and its wide basin, and slash the blade across her palm to open the flow of blood.
It ran freely, more than Di'kana expected. Quickly, a pool was formed in the bowl, and Aela hardly seemed disturbed for the amount that gushed forth from her skin. Then, just as quickly as Skjor had opened her flesh, the flow of red vitality stemmed itself and dribbled to a stop.
“The beast blesses us with an ability to heal faster from little things.” Skjor explained as Di'kana stepped closer to eye Aela's would-be wound with some wonder in her eyes. “Lest the blade is silver-- then it festers for far longer than it should. Its our bane, and you'll do well to avoid it, kit. Now,” Skjor gestured to the basin, to the gathering of wolf blood that had been poured out for her. “Drink, sister, and join in the blood as we have.”
There was a natural aversion when she was invited to drink Aela's blood, something that made her ears falter into their true enraged stance, flattening to her head for a moment before she got a hold of herself. There was a point, she supposed, when colorful metaphor had to give way to the more literal truth; that being that it was, indeed, the blood itself that carried and passed the gift.
She'd asked for this, and she stepped up to the alter. Both hands took to the rim of the stone bowl, her body bending low to bring her head down to the pool of dark red. She fought the reflex to sniff it first, instead closing her eyes not to consider what she was about to imbibe and simply beginning to lap at the pool like a wildcat.
The fact that it was still warm made a slight shudder pass through her. The taste was metallic and gamy, like poorly seasoned venison, but still she swallowed that which was within her mouth. With Skjor watching and Aela looming over her, she drank of the blood.
All the heat that had seemed to weave up through her limbs, all the warmth that had worked its way up through muscle and bone, seemed to suddenly burn-- like grand claws that dug into her where she'd felt nothing but a more gentle brush before. It ripped her away from the alter, stumbling back and crying out as, at first, the blood she'd swallowed felt like poison running through her. Throat and stomach clenched, and she retched. Once, twice, dry heaves as her hands flew to save her from a collision with the stone floor, tail arching up and bristling as her head dipped low, claws scrabbling for some kind of grip as she fought the feeling of sickness in a desire to stand up again.
She couldn't. Something was happening, something was growing within her that wasn't there before. Her head twisted one way, then another, feeling both strength and agony flood through her. It was a mixture that brought her to cry out louder, the rough rebellion of her stomach left behind for a squalling yowl that echoed through the ritual chamber.
She felt claws dragging up her spine. In their wake, it felt like blood flowing freely from the rent they might have opened in her skin. Hot tears of her body while the skin she knew so well might as well have peeled away. From it, something was emerging. From her pitiful little form, something else was taking over.
She could feel it now. Wild and desperate for freedom, it was inside her, roaring for freedom, screaming to get out.
In her moment of realization, she forced her head up. In the split second that her vision began to cloud and she felt as if she might be lost before this new and wild creature, she made herself focus upon her objective.
She looked at Skjor, letting loose a roar that would make the mountains tremble.
Watching a sibling change for the first time was something Aela had born witness to before; she'd been there when Farkas took the blood, and seen the violence and pain that preceded the first transformation. Like the pains of labor, the rebirth of one with the new beastblood was an indescribable agony and not for the faint of heart. However, she would note that Di'kana's change was... different.
The cat was becoming like them, and yet, certain parts seemed ever so slightly different as her new form began to take. Like Skjor's dead eye never left him, and while every wolf bore the scars of their host, she too had traits that carried over into her new shape. Claws that were thicker and curved like sickles, a longer, more feline tail that bushed out behind the muscular wolf body, a thicker coat of fur that lacked the usual bald spots when the furless members of men and mer became the wolf; simple things that made her no less formidable as her clothes shred for the size of her new body and her limbs organized themselves beneath her to let her rise up off of the floor.
She still howled like a wolf. If not for the thick stone walls around them, all of Whiterun might have heard it. Upon seeing a sister wolf, Aela's own urge to run rose up. She dropped to all fours, padding around the alter and ready for her newly changed sister to pick a direction and bolt. New bloods always did-- their first night mindless and bloody. Aela's job would be to ensure she escaped out of Whiterun, through a secret passage in the Underforge, not into the city where carnage would occur with vicious abandon.
Oh, a direction was chosen, but it wasn't for running.
The movement was sudden, a dark streak of near instantaneous speed that brought the black-furred she wolf to the only other living creature in the Underforge. Teeth snapped and claws ripped at armor plates, a breastplate being suddenly tossed aside as a surprised yell came from Skjor.
All at once, Di'kana's plan became clear.
Skjor had intended to use the rage of the new wolf to fight the Silver Hand.
She planned to use it to fight him-- where everyone feared him, feared to defy him or fight him, she'd picked a moment in which Skjor thought himself victorious. The moment where she accepted his plot for her to be his willing pawn, and instead turned upon him when he expected it the least.
“Aela, get her off of me!”
She hesitated. Skjor's guttural order was marked by a rage that heralded his own change. He was transforming to fight back, defend himself from the new wolf. He needed time for his body to undergo the pain that came with it, precious seconds in which Di'kana would likely rip his throat out, kill him before he finished.
It was reflex to obey him.
With a leap, she dove at her sister and knocked her off of Skjor, the pair of them tumbling in a heap of muscle and rage. Aela righted herself as quickly as she could, trying to get atop Di'kana, trying to stall her for a few moment. Out of her sight, she heard the sickening crunches of Skjor's bones re-arranging, the growling and snarling as he became something far more vicious than his human self.
In seconds, she heard him dashing off for the passage that would lead outside Whiterun's walls.
Di'kana's body twisted, kicking Aela away with a powerful strike from a rear paw. A look into her newly yellowed eyes said everything there was to be said-- the kitten wasn't in there right now. There was nothing but the rage, and it sniffed at Skjor's blood on the stone floor before taking off at horrific speed to follow.
As her human self, Aela might have hesitated in pursuit. She might have questioned her guilt over defending Skjor, or the equal guilt of having even considered letting him die-- the conflict within her would have choked out her desire for the hunt.
The wolf had no such struggle within itself. There was a smell of the wild world, a whiff of the area beyond Whiterun's walls that signaled the passage was open. That was all she needed, all that was required to forget the last few moments and take off into the night.
Nothing could dim the wolf's joy of freedom, running beneath the moons and bathing in the sparkling light they brought.